Monday, 5 August 2013

Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor

In the worst-kept Doctor Who secret since the 2005 reboot episode Rose was leaked in Canada, Peter Capaldi has been named as the Twelfth Doctor, and fans seem, for the most part, to be quite happy.

As usual, I've got mixed feelings, although they're generally very positive - and it's certainly good that they haven't tried to cast another Matt Smith, who always seemed a natural for the role.

Yes, Capaldi is a rather more familiar face than is usually the case, but I think the show needs a safe pair of hands in the driving seat for now.

And to the critics who say he won't stay for long, as he'll be lured away to other (bigger?) things, I refer you to my June 2nd post and the fact that only four actors - including the two most recent Doctors, David Tennant and Matt Smith - have ever held the TARDIS keys for more than three years at a time.

The Benefit of Hindsight

So, was Capaldi a predictable choice? Somebody clearly thought so, as there was a surge of betting on him over the weekend (we've asked William Hill for their thoughts on this, and will update this article if they get back to us).

Actually though, I think it would have been quite a surprise, had it not presumably have been for one of the ten 'trusted' BBC insiders running off to the bookies on Friday.

I think the fact that Capaldi is such a good fit for the role - and not just the modern-era role, but The Doctor as all Whovians know and love him - is what makes him a surprising choice.

Many people were genuinely expecting a woman or a black man (or possibly a black woman, although I didn't see that suggested much).

I would not have been surprised by a female Doctor, a non-human Doctor (yes, I know he's Gallifreyan, but I mean like an Ood-Doctor or something...), the return of an old character, an all-out comedian, or an at-last pay-off to the "still not ginger" gag that's been repeated throughout the modern era.

Instead, we have a Doctor who, as has been widely pointed out, is the same age as First Doctor William Hartnell was when the show began (although Hartnell looked much older).

We have a Doctor who is an accomplished, trusted, serious actor in true-to-life dramas, and that should be exciting for anyone who (like me) thinks the more recent few series of Doctor Who have lacked tangible drama and darkness.


Capaldi is so suited to the role, in fact, that the most controversial thing anyone has seemingly been able to find to say is that he's Scottish - and that's nothing new.

The Doctor of my childhood, Sylvester McCoy, was about as Scottish as it's possible to be, while David Tennant disguised his accent to play The Doctor as a Brit - meaning, whichever route Capaldi chooses, the precedent has already been set.

In the event, he will of course make the character his own, but I for one would love to see even the slightest resemblance to McCoy's Seventh Doctor.

McCoy played The Doctor for a little over two years, not counting his regeneration scene in the much-maligned 1996 TV movie, and he and Sophie Aldred as Ace were only getting into their stride when the TARDIS doors were closed on them.

I can see clear parallels between their relationship, and that which seems likely to form between Twelve and Clara, so with just a smattering of decent scripting, we could be on to a very good thing here.

Say Your Right Words

The scripting of modern-era Doctor Who is, of course, the real weak link, as the series has become rather too self-congratulatory in all respects (particular low points include the android Anne Robinson, and the "It's John Hurt!" reveal at the end of the last series which, had it not been John Hurt, but instead had been any random actor who wasn't world-famous, would have been utterly pointless in the context of the story).

Doctor Who urgently needs to regain its darker elements - and a genuine feeling of risk, not just 'mild peril' that ends with anybody who's dead somehow being resurrected.

It needs to lose the lame puns that are presented as fundamental truths of the Who universe (Whoniverse?) - like Captain Jack's "they used to call me the face of beau" line, for example, or the incessant assertions that "silence will fall", which I still don't know what they mean or whether they're supposed to have been resolved yet.

And it desperately, desperately needs to lose its 'deus ex machina' series finales. Classic Doctor Who was celebrated for its multi-episode stories, which allowed reasonable, considered resolutions, but left the characters free to move on to the next adventure.

Modern-era Doctor Who is a mish-mash of one-episode 'adventures' that often feel hurried, particularly in the conclusion (and there's too much running), contrasted against horribly drawn-out, often fairly unimaginative series-long arcs that, by the time they reach their resolution, nobody really cares any more; and the solution to whatever the contrived problem might be is so over-the-top that it requires god-like powers to be given to a companion, or The Doctor's regeneration.

Interestingly, the only people I've seen who have really been alienated by Capaldi's casting are the very young viewers, who reasonably have come to understand the character of The Doctor as one who is quite young and playful, and regenerates before he has chance to grow old.

Whether you think the show is far from 'the right track' or not, this new direction for the modern incarnation of Doctor Who is also a return to the core of the series as a 50-year brand - and for grown-up Whovians, that should make Capaldi a very exciting prospect indeed.

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